Auto Internet Predicted to Make Inroads

WELLINGBOROUGH, ENGLAND: The uptake of Internet-connecting by car manufacturers hasn’t taken off as previously expected, but it’s about to, according to the folks at IMS Research. If so, the phenomenon would add one more facet of competition to mobile DTV.

Globally, IMS said the number of new vehicles with integrated Internet access was 1.1 million last year, but expected to reach 6 million by 2017. That would indicate the addition of just 700,000 each year, but it would yield a total of 28.4 million ’Net-connected vehicles by 2017.

“The two main factors are the growing popularity of downloadable apps and improvements in cellular technology,” said Jon Cropley, author of the related IMS report.

IMS notes that downloading apps has become “one of the most prominent trends in mobile communications in the last three years.” The popularity of apps has motivated auto makers to consider vehicle-centric apps. Some include weather reports for driving destinations and having e-mail read out loud en route. IMS forecasts the in-vehicle app market to be worth $4 billion by 2017.

Another factor fueling Internet-connected car growth is improved cellular technology, IMS said. Third- and fourth-generation cell tech can better handle heavier data traffic. IMS says Japan is one of the first countries to have widely deployed 3G technology, and as such, was thought to have the most Web-connected vehicles last year.

In the category of things holding back the manufacture of Web-connected vehicles, there is safety. IMS notes that “a number of high-profile individuals have expressed concerns that it will distract drivers.” The IMS report was released within days of the death of a prominent Los Angeles plastic surgeon, who drove off the road while texting.

The IMS prognostication compares to another issued by iSuppli of Scottsdale, Ariz., last December. That firm said 55 million consumers would have Internet access in their cars by 2016. That would roughly jibe with the IMS numbers that infer 22.4 million Internet-capable cars on the road or on car lots by 2016.

Dr. Egil Juliussen of iSuppli also noted that Internet-connected cars could actually enhance driver safety with applications such as the Intelligent Transports System. ITS allows cars to communicate with each other and with traffic systems to avoid accidents and congestion.

Juliussen said cell networks would comprise the majority of links for Internet-connected cars. Ford already has Sync, and Fiat has Blue&Me, neither of which require a data plan. Subaru recently announced its 2011 Outbacks would be equipped with Autonet Mobile, a mobile WiFi service.

The rise of Internet-connected vehicles has competitive implications for mobile DTV, the service still in development in the broadcast industry. A substantial amount of TV network fare is available online, and localized content--the supposed carrot of mobile DTV--is readily available online as well.

A mobile DTV trial this year in Washington, D.C. was said to yield positive feedback, but few other details have been released. A consortium of broadcasters formed to create a business model and promote mobile DTV at the NAB Show last April, but little has emerged from that camp as well. Meanwhile, Qualcomm was widely reported in early August to be considering the divestiture of FLO TV, it’s mobile television business.
-- Deborah D. McAdams

August 3, 2010
: “Broadcast and WiFi Take Wind Out of FLO TV Sales”
The broadcast industry hammers away at its mobile DTV plan while current subscription-based player Qualcomm considers getting out. New research from Juniper Research suggests why.

July 19, 2010: “FCC Frees Up Mobile DTV With Analog Tuner Waiver”
The Federal Communications Commission has released mobile DTV from a regulatory obstacle. The commission waived a requirement that mobile digital broadcast TV receivers include analog decoding technology.

June 22, 2010: “Participants Rate Mobile DTV Experiment 7 out of 10”
The 150 or so folks tapped to test mobile, over-the-air DTV in the nation’s capital give it a 7 out of 10. That’s the word from the Open Mobile DTV Coalition.